The Parrot Zik headphones are not only designed by Philippe Starck, they also sport touch control, noise cancelling tech and their very own app
The Parrot Zik headphones are a gadget fan's dream, and a mong the most technically impressive cans to hit the shops so far. As well as wireless Bluetooth connetivity, the Ziks sports touch operation, noise-cancelling technology and a sensor that pauses the music when you take them off.
It all sounds pretty impressive on paper, but what are they actually any good? Going up against some tough competition including the B&W P3s and the Philips Fidelio L1s, have the Zik's got what it takes to make it into our list of the best headphones around? Read on to find out...
Parrot Zik: Design
As the aethetics are the work of French design guru Philippe Starck, it's no surprise that these headphones look pretty slick. The earcups are covered with a pleasingly smooth matte rubber, while the metal frame sports a similarly matte steel finish. There's also a discrete flash of orange - a telltale sign of a Starck design.
Parrot Zik: Controls
Pairing the headphones up, via Bluetooth, to your chosen device was thankfully fuss-free and we found that the connection remained strong with a decent range. The Ziks also feature Near Field Communication (NFC) for swift pairing - a first for headphones - although naturally that won't do you any good unless your music player is tooled up with NFC.
Aside from the wireless capability, the real killer feature here is the touch control. The whole surface of the right-hand earcup (sorry lefties) is a capacitive touch panel. Tapping the panel once will pause and play your music, while swiping forwards and backwards will skip the track and swiping up and down adjusts the volume.
The controls are extremely intuitive, and while you may get a few odd looks from baffled bystanders, the fact that you can control your music by simply tapping your headphones is simply fantastic.
No more rummaging around your bag for you iPod when you want to skip through a stinker of a track on an otherwise decent album - you simply swish your digit along your right earphone - with as little or as much flourish as you deem to be socially acceptable.
What's more, the Ziks can sense when the earphones are removed from your head, at which point, they'll pause the music and then start it again when you put them back on. This also works if you pull the right-hand earcup away from your head, for example, if you want to listen to a swift train announcement and haven't got time to remove the cans.
We did find that we knocked the controls and accidentally skipped tracks by accident a few times, but not so much that it became annoying. You might also have trouble with accidental touch control if you're wearing the headphones under a hoodie, but that's simply the price you pay for being fashionable (or cold).
Parrot Zik: Comfort
According to Starck himself: "The headphones are perfectly balanced and almost seem fused looking like a mere extension of the human body and all its needs". Hmmm. We're not quite sure about that, but they're pretty comfy.
While the headphones feel quite heavy in the hand, they're surprisingly comfortable when perched on your bonce. The soft and squishy earcups sit just around the ears, forming a decent seal while not feeling too hot.
Our only grumble is that because the earcups pack so much tech in, they're quite heavy compared to the headband, so if you lean forward or move about too much, they do have a tendency to slip.
Another point in their favour, is that the Ziks pass the 'wearing round the neck' test. While some cans make you feel like you're wearing a neck brace when you casually sling them round your neck, say while you're in a shop, these headphones actually sit very comfortably.
Parrot Zik: Durability
We're not going to lie - we felt a pang of concern every time we wrestled the headphones into their slightly undersized fabric pouch which offered very little protection for the Ziks once they were inside our bag.
To be fair, most of the time that you're out and about, the headphones are probably going to be on your head or round your neck, but if you're going to put them in a bag, you may have to prepare yourself for inevitable marks on that lovely matte rubber and stainless steel finish.
We would also be wary of dropping the headphones from any height as the sheer weight of the cans themselves would almost certainly result in them taking a fairly hefty whack when hitting the ground. You've been warned.
Parrot Zik: App
The Ziks have their own custom-made Parrot Audio Suite app (opens in new tab) which is available on iTunes and Google Play (opens in new tab). We tested it out on the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2.
Along with monitoring battery life, the app also enables you to control the noise-cancelling tech. There's also a handy Concert Hall effect, which enables you to adjust the sonics to give the impression of listening in a Silent Room, Living Room, Jazz Club or, of course, a Concert Hall.
There's also an equalizer for you to tinker with or alternatively, you can choose from a selection of presets to suit the type of audio that you're listing to.
Parrot Zik: Sound quality
Sound quality is very good indeed, although perhaps not quite up to the heady audiophile standards that we might've expected from a pair of cans that costs the best part of 350 notes.
Having said that, it's still a mighty fine sound performance - Parrot hasn't simply whacked up the bass response, which is what happens all too often with so-called designer headphones.
The preset EQ modes are a nice touch and unlike many other products, where the difference between these settings is slight and, at times, almost undetectable, the Zik's audio modes are all noticeably different.
The Ziks also enable you to make and receive calls while you're paired up to your phone. There are several microphones at work, along with a bone conduction sensor that enables the headphones to extract your voice from all the surrounding noise.
The sound quality is reasonable, although a little muffled and echo-laden, making any conversation sound rather like both parties are trapped in a cupboard.
It's also slightly disconcerting talking while wearing the headphones and they do such a good job of blocking out external sounds that you'll end up speaking in a comically raised voice.
If you intend to make a lot of business calls then this isn't the piece of kit for you, but it's fine for picking up the odd call from a mate without the bother of removing your headphones.
Parrot Zik: Battery
The headphones sport a rechargable 800mAh Li-Ion battery which can be connected to a laptop or USB charger using the microUSB connector (such as an iDevice charger).
While no battery life is quoted by the manufacturer, we found it to be about five hours in practice (with the noise cancelling and Concert Hall effect turned on the whole time). In our book, if there isn't a sufficient amount of juice to get us through a transatlantic flight, then we feel it's just not enough. This is the only really major flaw that we found with the Ziks.
The good news is that you can still use the headphones with the supplied cable if the battery conks out, although you won't have the luxury of the fancy touch operation or the noise-cancelling.
Parrot Zik: Verdict
The Parrot Ziks are certainly impressive and undoubtedly the best Bluetooth headphones we've seen yet. Along with the reliable wireless performance, the touch operation is superb, the cans are comfortable and the audio is excellent.
The slightly steep price tag will no doubt be a sticking point for some, but it's not entirely unusual when you start to venture into the world of high-end headphones.
We'd like to see a few improvements in terms of the balance between the weight of the earcups and the fit of the headband and the slightly disappointing battery life, but these grumbles aside, these headphones are ludicrously good and we don't really want to give them back to Parrot.
Parrot Zik availability: August 2012
Parrot Zik price: £349